Fast fashion is harmful to both environment and mental health


Northern Star File Photo | Summer Fitzgerald

SHEIN, an online store, has recently become a main source of fast fashion as it is heavily promoted across social media platforms through “SHEIN Hauls”.

By Summer Fitzgerald

In recent years, fast fashion has become a major issue, especially as social media has picked up on it. You cannot open Instagram or TikTok without seeing someone in your feed showing off their brand new wardrobe full of the latest trends. Trend cycles have sped up drastically and social media constantly pushes all of it in our faces. 

This constant pressure to keep up with the rapid changes has led corporations with no other choice but to cut major corners, no matter what harm it causes.

Fast fashion is defined as “inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends,” according to Oxford Languages. Fast fashion is detrimental to not only the environment but to young people’s mental health as well.

Environmental cost

Textile mills generate more than one-fifth of all water pollution and use 20,000 chemicals, many of them carcinogenic, according to the Natural Resources Defence Council. This puts the workers as well as the environment in a very unhealthy condition. Most textile factories are located in developing countries where the government cannot keep track of or regulate the pollution laws. 

When companies only care about keeping up with trends and making quick bucks, they take all the shortcuts they can. They find loopholes in the laws, exploit their workers, and destroy the environment in their path. Clothes from fast fashion brands are not made to be sustainable or last long, so cutting corners like this is just the norm. 

These brands are founded on the concept of selling cheap, low-quality clothing that is meant to be thrown away. In fact, 101 million tons of clothing are thrown away each year, according to the BBC. These serious environmental effects far outweigh the low prices of fast fashion.

Harming our mental health

The recent rise of fast fashion can easily be sourced to the similar rise of social media platforms, especially TikTok and Instagram. Lots of people regularly turn to social media to share their hauls from stores such as Forever 21, Urban Outfitters and Shein, despite their harmful contributions to the environment. 

Fashion and social media trends on these apps are not only sensational and short-lived, but they also negatively impact users’ mental health. 

Social media alone already has such negative effects on society. A recent study of women between the ages of 18 and 25 showed a link between Instagram and increased self-objectification and body image concerns, according to the National Eating Disorder Association. There is no denying that body image and mental health issues are rising exponentially and that it is harming our youth.

Alternatives to fast fashion

Conscious consumers should try their best to stay away from fast fashion, but how? It starts right in your own community. Instead of ordering cheap, poorly made clothing, fill your closet with clothes from local, small businesses. Donating to and shopping at thrift shops also helps to maximize the use of clothes and ensures less clothing ends up in landfills.

You can also buy clothes from ethical brands that do not contribute to fast fashion. Companies like Patagonia, Kotn and Fair Trade Winds offer a wide range of styles and budgets to accommodate consumers. They also make conscious efforts to keep their businesses ethical. For example, Patagonia uses renewable energy to make its clothes and is very conscious of its carbon footprint.

Fast fashion is an irresponsible industry that exploits consumers, workers and the environment. Even though it may all look glamorous on social media, it is not worth your money or mental health.